The International Finance Corporation found that if major online shopping marketplaces do more to encourage and enable women entrepreneurs, Southeast Asia’s e-commerce market could grow by more than $280 billion by 2030.
The “anonymity” of e-commerce has removed many of the traditional barriers to entry for women, allowing them to thrive in new sectors, according to Amy Luinstra, the IFC’s gender programme manager for East Asia and Pacific.
Nonetheless, many of the inequalities that women face in traditional retail “bleed into the online world,” she says, such as obtaining funding.
Luinstra urged major e-commerce players to do more to support female vendors and seize market opportunities.
She stated that this includes extending financing to women, providing training, and encouraging them to participate in higher-value sectors such as electronics.
“For platforms that have financing options, that is an excellent way to bring more women in and help them thrive by ensuring they are aware of the financing offers and can take advantage of them,” Luinstra explained.
On Tuesday, March 31, 2020, a woman wears a protective face mask as she waits for customers inside her shop in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Her remarks come against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is said to have disproportionately harmed women.
The IFC report, which drew on data from Southeast Asian e-commerce site Lazada, found that women were on track to achieve gender parity in e-commerce in 2019. Despite the recent surge in online retail, the additional caregiving responsibilities and time constraints that women faced slowed progress.
“Prior to the pandemic, women were holding their own — in some cases outselling men, and even… out participating men,” Luinstra explained.
In the Philippines, for example, women previously accounted for 64% of sellers on Lazada’s site, but their sales dropped by 27% during the pandemic, according to the report.
“That has changed as a result of the pandemic, and that’s how we’re beginning to see the gap, and the opportunity for closing that gap, which adds up to the big number $280 billion,” she said, referring to the market opportunity mentioned in the report.